In the final scene of HBO’s “The Wire” … the legendary series about gangs, drugs, and corruption in schools, politics, and journalism … the series ends after five seasons of building towards closure with a montage (not included to avoid spoilers, go watch the series again to see it) showing that even though various loose ends may have been tied, the general themes live on without any signs of ever stopping.
Similarly, Duke’s celebration at midfield/short centerfield of Yankee Stadium on Saturday felt more like a perpetual middle than an end, even though every story you’ll read coming out of the Blue Devil’s Pinstripe Bowl win will be very much focused on the end of the 55-season bowl drought. That’s how sports works, and no one is immune … not even Duke football.
Cutcliffe is fond of mentioning his checklists, so here’s a look at what sits in his “completed” tab over his 8 seasons at Duke:
- Don’t be an embarrassment to football (check)
- Win an ACC game (check)
- Get to a bowl game (check)
- Have a winning season (check)
- Be ranked (check)
- Get to consecutive bowl games (check)
- Have consecutive winning seasons (check)
- Win the division (check)
- Win a bowl game (check)
That’s a pretty steep incline on expectations, and it’s not stopping there anytime soon. It’s certainly not getting any easier in the new-look Coastal with every team capable of putting together a top-25 season in what legitimately could become the deepest division in college football. Winning records, national rankings, and bowl wins are now the expected norm for Duke football, and while it’s fun to sit back and say “did you ever think you’d see the day”, the reality is that it’s time to deliver on that expectation instead of having a good chuckle at its existence.
Cutcliffe’s mantra has always been “Leave a place better than you found it”, and thanks to the graduating class of 2015, the winningest class in program history, that’s not nearly as easy as it once was.
Duke Bowl Games are Appointment Television
Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern. Four times in a row … well that’s a tradition. In four straight bowl games, an underdog Duke team has created one of, if not THE craziest, most memorable bowl game of the season.
Once again, Duke found themselves needing a late 4th quarter touchdown to win or tie. Thomas Sirk bucked the trend, however, this time successfully converting and sending the game to overtime where Duke would win on the closest of misses by Indiana’s kicker on his game-tying attempt.
Jerking the Monkey Off
Like it or not, North Carolina sports are pretty much defined by basketball, so there’s no better way to examine what it means for Duke to finally get the monkey off of their back than to look at what it meant for our basketball coaches.
Both Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski were known, at one point in their careers, as great coaches who could never win a championship. Now, the two have a combined 7 titles to their names. There’s just something funny about winning that changes a program, and while the Pinstripe win doesn’t guarantee anything in the future, it’s impossible to think that the absence of that “here we go again” feeling won’t positively impact the Blue Devils moving forward.
Cutcliffe famously said “You’ve never eaten a meal until you’ve eaten a bowl meal” as a way to describe the urgency to reach that goal each season, and the feeling of lifting a trophy will undoubtedly make each of his players a little more excited to get back to Spring football next season.
So What About Next Season?
The sign of an actual football program is the ability to replace NFL talent from one season to the next. Duke loses Jeremy Cash, Matt Skura, Will Monday and Ross Martin, all of whom will be playing football on Sundays for a lot of money. Braxton Deaver and Shaq Powell also move on, and both will also have an opportunity to get a look in the NFL. Probably the biggest leap in Cutcliffe’s tenure has been Duke’s ability to recover from those types of losses.
Another good sign is recruiting, and right now, Duke’s 2016 class ranks 25th in the nation, 4th in the ACC, and is by far the best recruiting class in Duke football history. Even better for the Blue Devils, most of this talented group will redshirt.
The quarterback situation is one big question mark. Thomas Sirk returns, and there’s no question that he’s dangerous in the running game. He’ll also have a new position coach, so it will be interesting to see if his mechanics and decision-making will improve under different leadership, or if the new coordinator favors Parker Boehme or redshirt Daniel Jones.
One quick thing about Sirk …
16 passing TDs
8 rushing TDs
Final 5 Minutes & OT – Down <7 or Tied
3 passing TDs
2 rushing TDs
2 two-point conversions
Nine drives. Eight successful scores. That conversion rate is borderline unbelievable, especially considering the obvious struggles that Sirk encounters during other parts of the games.
Duke Ain’t Even Played Nobody
Another sign of Duke’s return to relevance as a football program is the rising sodium level of rival fans. Strength of schedule complaints (never mind that Duke used to lose 10+ games each season to identical opponents) abound, and with the death of the bowl streak, we have the birth of the “Duke football bandwagon fan” cry. With the newly renovated Wallace Wade Stadium scheduled for full completion by the start of the 2016 season, bandwagon fans will certainly be comfortable, at least.
2016 home games: NC Central, Army, UNC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
2016 road games: Northwestern, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Miami, Pittsburgh, Louisville
8-5 this season was a massive disappointment masked by a bowl win, but also thanks in part to a once-in-a-generation type referee blunder that contributed to a mid-year tailspin. With the schedule in 2016, 8 wins would be a fair expectation.
Of note … should Duke reach 9 wins in 2016, David Cutcliffe would eclipse the .500 mark for his career at Duke, recovering from a 21-40 start in Durham between 2008 and 2012.
Remember when we praised that for exceeding what we’d ever thought we’d see from Duke football again?